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Tikkun: Repair

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

It may sound trite, but I LOVE the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s a good practice once a year (or better, twice a year – once at the secular New Year and once at the Jewish New Year) to sit down and give serious thought to the choices we have made and the changes we would like to make. In Hebrew we call this Tikkun – repair. And Jewish tradition teaches us that not only is it worthwhile to spend time thinking about how we can repair ourselves and our world, but the wellbeing of the world may hinge on it.

The idea that we now call Tikkun Olam (“Repairing the World”) arose almost 500 years ago, in the wake of the Spanish Expulsion. In 1492, the Jews of Spain – an old, venerable, and highly educated community – were forcibly expelled from the country that had been their home for centuries. This event was extraordinarily traumatic – uprooting the ancient Sephardic community, turning their world on its head, and sending them wandering in the world.

In the wake of their expulsion, many Sephardic Jews turned inward, asking, “What is wrong with our world, that such a thing could have happened?” Out of that question they developed a new and powerful idea: Something IS wrong with our world, and we have the power to fix it.

Rabbi Isaac Luria was a mystical rabbi who lived in the town of Tzfat (sometimes spelled Safed) in northern Israel, a generation after the expulsion. He taught, in good mystical style, that what is wrong with the world is the result of a cosmic accident: When God created the world, he taught, God’s divine light – which represents God’s perfect, holy nature – was placed into clay vessels to be sorted for various purposes in Creation. But the vessels could not hold the light, for it was too powerful, and they shattered. The sparks of God’s light were spread all through creation – some returned upward to God, and others became embedded in the world of matter.

This cosmic “shattering” is Luria’s metaphor for the brokenness of our world. (Or maybe he meant it literally - he was a mystic, after all!) Our entire world is in exile, he taught, and the path to repairing it is to perform mitzvot: to access the goodness inherent in the world and release the sparks. Luria believed that when all of the sparks of divine light were released, the Messiah would come and the world would be redeemed.

Even without being medieval Kabbalists (and without believing in a personal Messiah) we can appreciate the power of this teaching. Rabbi Luria’s ideas validate something we know instinctively: that our world is far from the way it should be. There is so much suffering, hatred, and poverty in the world around us. But Luria’s teachings also validate our power to change that: by doing mitzvot, by performing holy acts on earth, we can bring the world closer to the perfection that we envision.

That means that you don’t have to change the world in order to change the world. All you have to do is make one small change, make one thing better. We can do that dozens of times a day with our words, our actions, our donations, and our smallest choices. If we think of ourselves as “releasing divine sparks,” perhaps it will impel us to act at all times in ways that reflect our better values. And it will remind us that we have the power to do Tikkun – to repair both what is inside of us, and what is around us.

I look forward to seeing you at services, Torah Study, Religious School, and other events in the coming weeks.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Tue, August 9 2022 12 Av 5782